A growing number of residents in Wheaton primarily travel by bus or on foot. The area’s car-centric infrastructure makes life difficult and dangerous. But instead of helping pedestrians, Montgomery County’s transportation department is putting up new barriers against them.

Image from Bing.

Randolph Road has room for a wide, grassy median that gives drivers a pleasant view. Yet its sidewalks are too narrow and dangerously close to the road. Pedestrians, sometimes with heavy loads of groceries, face constant danger as they walk inches away from high-speed traffic.

At Randolph Road and Viers Mill Road, there is a strip mall with an entrance in the middle of a 1000-foot-long superblock, directly across from an entrance to a McDonald’s. There is no entrance directly to the strip mall from the corner, near the existing crosswalk.

Many pedestrians crossing from one to the other naturally take the direct route between them (the blue arrow above), rather than walking to the end of the block. This is far quicker, does not require walking on the dangerous sidewalks, offers a refuge in the middle of the highway that is lacking at the intersections, and avoids the risk of getting hit by a turning driver.

But Montgomery traffic engineers prioritize moving as many cars as possible through the road as fast as possible. Pedestrians crossing in the middle of the block interfere with this. Rather than provide a safe and convenient crosswalk, add a traffic signal to move toward more urban block sizes, or address the sidewalk safety problem, Montgomery’s Orwellian-named Pedestrian Safety Program has built a fence to keep people from crossing the street.

This is only one example of how Montgomery’s disproportionate focus on automobiles harms other road users. Until the county realizes that it needs to plan to meet the needs of all users, pedestrians will continue to suffer from unsafe and inconvenient conditions.